I am excellent at putting myself down.
It’s the one thing I’m generally happy to admit to being good at.
I’ve known this about myself for a long time. I’ve known it in that vague way you know something about yourself without really considering it too much. I’ve known it in the same way that I know I’m tall.
But something a friend said to me last year brought it into stark relief, and I’ve been trying to stop being so hard on myself since.
This friend came to visit not long after Mitchell was born. He asked how I was going, and I said okay, and then listed all the things that weren’t going that well. But not that simply – it’s hard to explain, but I didn’t just talk about the obvious things like sleep deprivation and balancing the needs of two children. I listed all the things that, in my head, I wasn’t doing that well. Not us as a family, not us as parents, but me. Just me.
Sure, exhaustion played a part in this too. But I also just couldn’t see much that was positive about how I was handling things. About what I was doing. About me. Just me.
He parried. He listed some things that I was doing well. I shot them down, turned them on their heads or made jokes of them.
And after some back and forth, he said this: “Sometimes it’s exhausting having a conversation with you, Em.”
It hit me. Hard. Not in a ‘How could you kick me when I’m down?’ kind of way, but in an ‘Oh my goodness you’re right, and I know you’re right, and what am I DOING?’ kind of way.
I could psychoanalyse the reasons forever. I know the main reason. There was (is) someone in my life who was so intent on tearing me down for so long that I got into the habit of doing it first. If you make the obvious joke, highlight the bad news or downplay the good news first, then they’ve got nowhere to go, right?
Think Eminem in 8 Mile. He raps his own hard luck story in the rap battle final, leaving his competitor nothing left to attack him with, and emerges the victor.
But it doesn’t work so well in real life. The competition doesn’t end, and no trophy is given. You tear yourself down, and people just nod and believe it.
You tear yourself down, and you just nod and believe it.
The real problem is, once you start, the habit is hard to break. Telling jokes about yourself, downplaying your successes and not giving yourself credit when its due become things that you do. They become part of your identity.
You continue to believe it.
Anyway. I know all of that. I know (most of the reason) why I do it. And I’ve known since I had this conversation with a friend more than a year ago. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve known longer than that. No need to pay for therapy.
Now… to break the habit.